Home learning focus

Learn about primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary industries including how employment has changed over time in the UK, and how it differs between countries.

This lesson includes:

  • one short film explaining primary and secondary industries

  • one short film explaining tertiary and quaternary industries

  • four activities to build on your knowledge


Industry is classified into four different sectors - primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary.

Primary industry

Primary industries are the starting point for all industrial activities. They involve the growing, extraction or collection of raw materials (basic materials that goods are made from such as crops, metals, wood and animal products such as wool and leather) from the Earth or sea. For example:

farming, fishing and mining.

Secondary industry

Secondary industries are those that take the raw materials produced by the primary industries and process them into manufactured goods and products. For example:

heavy manufacturing - steel or textile production, light manufacturing - food processing, oil refining and energy production.

Watch this short film to find out more about primary and secondary industries.

The steel industry is part of the secondary sector.
A short explanation of the terms primary and secondary industry.

Tertiary industry

The tertiary sector is also called the service sector and involves the selling of services and skills. They can also involve selling goods and products from primary and secondary industries, for example:

  • the health service
  • transportation
  • education
  • entertainment
  • tourism
  • finance
  • sales and retail (commercial selling of goods and products)

The biggest area of expansion in the tertiary sector in the UK has been in financial and business services. According to government statistics, 25 years ago one in ten people worked in this industry, now it is 1 in 5.

The health service is part of the tertiary sector.

Quaternary industry

The quaternary sector consists of those industries providing information services, for example:

  • computing, ICT (information and communication technologies)
  • consultancy (offering advice to businesses)
  • R&D (research, particularly in scientific fields)

The quaternary sector is sometimes included with the tertiary sector, as they are both service sectors.

The tertiary and quaternary sectors make up the largest part of the UK economy, employing 76 per cent of the workforce.

Watch this short film to find out more about tertiary and quaternary industries.

A short explanation of tertiary and quaternary industries, what they are and how they fit into global economy.

Comparing employment structures

The employment structure of a country shows how the labour force is divided between the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors. Different countries have different employment structures. The employment structure of a given country can tell you quite a lot about its economy.

In the richest countries, for example, there will usually be more people working in the tertiary/quaternary sector than in the primary and secondary sectors. In the poorest countries, there tend to be more people working in the primary sector than in either the secondary or tertiary sectors.

Look at the diagram below. Based on the employment structure, which countries do you think are the richest and poorest?

The employment structure of USA, Brazil and Nepal (the quaternary sector has been included in the tertiary sector).

In the richest country (USA), most people work in the tertiary sector. In the poorest country (Nepal), most people work in the primary sector. In Brazil, the labour force is more evenly distributed between the three sectors.

Changing employment structures over time

Employment structures can also change over time within the same country.

In the UK in 1800 most people would have been employed in the primary sector. Many people worked on the land, and made their living from agriculture and related products.

During the industrial revolution(a period in which most manufacturing was transformed from handmade to machine-made, mass-produced goods), more people were needed to build ships, or work in steel-making and with textiles. All of these jobs are found in the secondary sector and by 1900 over half of the workers in the UK were employed in secondary industries.

Since 1900 mechanisation meant that fewer people were required to work on the land and in industry, as machines could carry out most of the work that people previously did.

Foreign industries also became more competitive and imports(goods or services which enter a country) such as coal became more affordable. As the availability of coal declined in the UK, and also became more expensive to extract, more coal was imported. This led to a further decline in primary sector employment in the UK.

The demand for work increased in schools, hospitals and retail industries. Many people left the rural areas in the search for jobs in the towns and cities.

By the year 2000 over half of the UK workforce were employed in tertiary industries and only a small number were employed in primary industries. This has changed the work that people do, and also where they work. Quaternary industries are a relatively new concept, and it is only recently that they have been added to these figures. However it is becoming an important and growing sector in the UK as many firms want to carry out research and development for their products.

Line graph showing the UK employment structure from 1800 – 2000.


There are lots of fun things to do to help you remember what you've learnt about primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary industries.

Here are a few you could try.

Activity 1


Test your knowledge of industries with this 10 question multiple choice quiz.

Take the test

Activity 2

Different industries activity

After watching the two videos in this lesson have a go at completing the questions in the activity sheet below from Teachit.

Download and print the sheet below or write your answers on a piece of paper.

Different industries activity sheet

Activity 3

Sorting into primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary sectors

Download the activity sheet and print out and follow the instructions provided. This resource is from Teachit.

  • cut out the sector titles and stick them onto a piece of paper
  • cut out the images and pick two or three for each sector
  • cut out the words and sort into each sector
  • justify one of the images for each sector. Why is it in that sector?
Sorting into sectors activity sheet

Activity 4

What industries do people work in today?

Think of six people you know and the jobs they work in. Download the activity sheet and complete the table and the questions provided by Britannica Digital Learning.

Industries activity sheet

There's more to learn

Have a look at these other resources around the BBC and the web.

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